If you think a front loader won't work for you, you might be surprised.
We’ve been putting washing machines through the wringer since the 1960s and in that time, a pattern has emerged – front loaders perform better.
Our tests prove top loaders are tougher on fabrics, take up more space, guzzle water, and don’t remove dirt that well.
Of course, clean laundry isn’t the only key to long-term happiness with your washing machine. You’ll also be hoping for years of hassle-free operation. Our latest reliability and owner satisfaction survey, which included 1052 top loaders and 1637 front loaders, showed both types were equally reliable (88% and 89%, respectively, bought new in the past five years didn’t have a fault). However, there was a marked difference in satisfaction, with front loader owners significantly happier with their purchase (81% were very satisfied versus 73% of top loader owners).
Why then, when it’s clear front loaders are better, do we still recommend the occasional top loader? Because, for some people, a front loader simply isn’t the right choice and, at Consumer, we’re all about helping you identify the product that best suits your circumstances. But if you’ve always assumed a front loader wouldn’t work for you, you might be surprised. Here, we dispel some misconceptions about both types.
If you have jumbo-sized piles of laundry, don’t assume your only option is a top loader. The largest domestic-purpose washing machines are 16kg front loaders. The biggest top loaders, meanwhile, are 13kg.
If space is tight (less than 65cm, which is the minimum needed for a standard 60cm-wide machine with a few centimetres’ wiggle room), you’ll have no choice but a top loader. It’s slim pickings though, as most top loaders are at least as wide as the average front loader. They’re also generally deeper and always taller. A front loader is best for using space efficiently as it can double as a benchtop or allow a dryer to be conveniently mounted above.
Front loaders generally take longer, but their cycles are often not as long as stated in the manual (when the load’s small, the programme usually gets shorter automatically). For example, the manual for one 8.5kg front loader said it would take about 278 minutes to complete a “Cotton, Cold, 1400rpm, option+, 3:20 to go” cycle, but our 3.5kg test load took less than half that. Most manmade fabrics are not as robust as cotton so a typical “mixed” cycle is even faster, but if you’re in a hurry, use the “quick” setting. Or, you could delay the start and let the machine do its thing while you’re out, then hang your laundry out later.
Contrary to expectations, not all top loaders are cheap as chips and not all front loaders will burn a hole in your pocket.
In our reliability survey, the average top loader bought in the past five years was cheaper than the average front loader. That said, a third of top loaders cost more than $1000, whereas a third of front loaders came in under $1000.
The rubber seal of a front loader’s door can get mouldy. But you change the oil in your car, remove lint from the tumble dryer … so it shouldn't be a hassle to run a maintenance cycle and wipe down the rubber door seal. And it’s not just front loaders that require maintenance washes. Scrud (the waxy build-up that occurs when fabric softener comes into contact with detergent) can affect front and top loaders. Some machines have cleaning cycles, or else you could run a long, high-temperature cycle without detergent and clothes.
“You can’t add anything to a front loader” is a common complaint, but that was then. These days, several manufacturers make front loaders with an “add item” hatch. As for people with mobility issues, it’s true they may find a top loader easier to access, but a pedestal can raise a front loader by between 30cm and 67cm, making the drum more accessible. Also, pedestals usually include a drawer, which is handy as you may no longer be able to use the top of the machine as a work or storage surface.
Our annual running cost figures assume one “normal” wash cycle a day, at 26¢ per kilowatt hour. This makes front loaders seem power-hungry, but the difference between top and front loader running costs for a “normal” cycle are negligible. In our tests, a 7.5kg Electrolux front loader used $10 a year in electricity, whereas a 7.5kg Samsung top loader burned through $6 in electricity.
When it comes to being water-wise, though, front loaders can’t be beat. At the time of writing, the least water-efficient front loader in our database, a 7.5kg Samsung, scored 73% for water efficiency. That’s a lot better than the most water-efficient top loader tested, a 7kg Haier, with just 64%.